Business Monday

Business can be a force in advancing civic, social issues

ADES
ADES

The question: After Starbucks debuted their “Race Together” campaign, what role do you think South Florida companies should play in the conversation on civic and social issues?

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It’s very challenging for corporations to have a voice on civic and social issues and not be considered “marketing.” However, companies should ensure that they are good corporate citizens by providing for a diverse workforce, by treating its workers with respect and with a pay that would allow them to live a respectable life. It’s not what corporations say — it’s what they do and how they treat their own.

Daniel Ades, managing partner, Kawa Capital Management

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South Florida companies have an obligation to make the community in which they do business better and stronger. Even those who say their business focuses outside of South Florida will reap benefits such as better employee recruitment and retention when they engage in improving local civic and social issues.

Christine Barney, CEO, RBB Communications

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The role South Florida companies should have regarding civic issues is to stress the importance of equality among employees. The subject of social issues is a very broad subject here in Miami, where we are dealing with many issues such as conflict among politicians in the City of Miami and public funding for private projects which has been very controversial.

Richard Behar, founder and president, Capital Clothing Corp

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Race is an important, necessary discussion and it’s vital for growth, collaboration and equal opportunities.

Carmen Castillo, president and CEO, SDI International

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The United States has always led the world in fair treatment of individuals and that dialogue should be a model for the world, with Miami and our local business base leading the charge. Our city should take great pride in the tremendous strides that have been made in our community. We are a diverse melting pot with a variety of cultures and ethnicities coexisting peacefully. Few places around the world can say that.

Alice Cervera Lamadrid, managing partner, Cervera Real Estate

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I firmly believe companies have a duty to invest in their community and ensure they thrive, but it doesn’t always need to be done so conspicuously. Quiet pursuit of a healthy community, economy and social sphere free of injustice can be just as effective. You don’t need a loud voice to change the world. As long as you act, you don’t even need to whisper.

Jonathan Chariff, CEO, South Motors

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Many pundits have weighed in on this issue. I choose to echo those who find it absurd to suggest society can have a serious conversation about race facilitated by a barista at Starbucks. This is marketing and not a real solution. While I applaud the company for attempting to address the issue and understand their instinct to start a grassroots conversation, I do not believe it is the job of any service staff nor is it fair to ask them to mediate race conversations on behalf of someone else. There are better ways to achieve traction in this issue. Race is personal and it’s an institutional issue, not a civic or social problem, so institutions, including large companies, are a great place to begin the dialogue. Currently, most institutional conversation centers on distribution of wealth and access to wealth. They talk about money, money and more money, for the people who already have money. If companies want to seriously address Race Together, they can achieve this in much better ways: equitable staffing across all corporate levels; elimination of the glass and race ceilings; equal and fair pay; opening and staffing locations in low-income high minority neighborhoods; strategic, neighborhood-empowering philanthropic donations. Companies can use their power for good and make a tangible difference in race relations by standing with local banks to extend loans to small businesses so the social mobility landscape is not so restrictive. Paradoxically, they could restrict their business relationships to include doing business with only those banks which loan to small minority-owned business and contribute philanthropically to organizations that support local innovation in low income high minority neighborhoods. Now THAT is a solution, not a marketing ploy.

Pandwe Gibson, executive director, EcoTech Visions

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I applaud Starbucks and think that South Florida companies should move beyond their “bottom lines” and consider how they can have an impact on the community and the lives around them. The “power of one” has a major multiplier effect when it is the “power of a brand, a company, a team.” Companies should take action toward making the world a better place.

Julie Grimes, managing partner, Hilton Bentley Hotel

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The keyword is conversation. Starbucks received a lot of flack, but they are a company that said we don’t have the solution but we want to open a dialogue, which is very bold and extremely uncomfortable. But change only happens when we all step outside our comfort zone and face issues head on, because when we choose to sweep things under the rug, and stand on the sidelines and wait, we create breeding grounds for racial tension.

Felecia Hatcher, co-founder of Feverish Gourmet Pops

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People, not businesses, should drive our community conversations. However, businesses can help fund and support their stakeholders’ issues.

Victor Mendelson, co-president, HEICO

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Miami has shown that diversity can be a strength when it comes to business. Companies from as far away as Europe and Asia are doing business here because our workforce is diverse and we embrace different cultures and customs. It’s up to our business and civic community to continue attracting new companies. We can be a case study for the nation.

Nitin Motwani, managing principal, Miami Worldcenter Associates

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Companies are designed to be for-profit organizations. Companies can also be a force for even bigger societal change. However, we need to be careful about venturing into topics that we’re not trained for or skilled at handling. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has always been an authentic voice on social justice matters. Even so, Mr. Schultz and Team Starbucks have seen the limits on their social capital when it comes to matters like race relations. As a business owner, where I can have impact is to recruit and retain a diverse management and operational team. Our differences in life experiences and backgrounds make Sushi Maki a stronger organization.

Abe Ng, founder and CEO of Sushi Maki

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It’s a good practice to incorporate social responsibility into your business plan, while also taking into account that the main focus is on business performance.

Todd Oretsky, co-founder, Pipeline Brickell

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Civic engagement and discourse should be a cornerstone at every company in our region. It should be a daily dialogue, not driven by any slogan or catchphrase.

Eduardo Padrón, president, Miami Dade College

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Whether or not to take a stand on the “big issues” is a decision every company has to make on its own. For some, these conversations are an integral part of their ethos; for others, they’re not. In the recent Starbucks example, I applaud the intention, but the execution was a rare miss for them: No one should be confronted about the most heated issues facing our nation before having their morning coffee!

Joanna Schwartz, CEO and co-founder, EarlyShares

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I am a firm believer that any corporation that draws from a community has an obligation to give back. In 2007, we formed a foundation to give scholarships to high school seniors that meet certain academic standards but who have economic challenges. I would like to see more companies put together a program to help their local communities.

Dave Seleski, president and CEO, Stonegate Bank

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South Florida companies can play a lead role in addressing the race issue. We are already truly diverse. Yet we are continually challenged to raise our level of conscientiousness and sensitivity to be “inclusive” in our business and civic practices. This sensitivity should reflect that we are now a global and ethnic world.

Darryl K. Sharpton, president and CEO, The Sharpton Group

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We have a responsibility as members of the business community to speak for those without a voice and catalyze change. At Akerman, we are mindful of the impact we have on the communities in which we live and work. Our philanthropic and pro bono initiatives are one way in which we engage in the conversation about civic and social issues, particularly in the areas of education and youth development.

Andrew Smulian, chairman and CEO, Akerman LLP

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Whether it’s a company or an individual, we all have a duty to fight discrimination and provide equal rights, and successful companies have led the way in facilitating this long term. Miami is a very diverse community and a great place to raise a family, as an early experience of diversity means more ability to work with and appreciate different people, a key requirement as the international environment becomes primordial for economic success.

Gillian Thomas, president and CEO, Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science

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I believe everyone can and should play a role in raising awareness and helping to solve civic and social issues. “Everyone” includes individuals and schools; faith-based, civic and social organizations; government (local, state and federal); nonprofit organizations; foundations; and companies. The roles companies can play is to 1) use their platform to raise awareness about the issue; 2) use their talent to help identify the solution; and 3) engage their circle of influence to help provide resources.

Paco Velez, CEO, Feeding South Florida

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Personally, I love that South Florida is a melting pot where anyone is accepted and all kinds of business can grow. Our business is built on bringing people together. Messages of unity and positivity are present on every item we design.

Alina Villasante, founder, Peace Love World clothing

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Participation in conversations on civic and social issues should occur within the context of the organization’s culture and its employees. Public support of such issues is also acceptable as long as it isn’t forced upon employees, partners, or customers. Company employees, top-down, should have conversations on civic and social issues independently as their personal brand, unless they are matters directly affecting the organization’s ability to execute its day-to-day operations.

Marlon Williams, founder and CEO, Fenero

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I applaud Starbucks for trying to tackle such a volatile social issue like race relations. I think that it’s up to the leadership of each company to determine what their company stands for and how best to express their point of view. Many companies, especially large consumer brands, have been able to use their power to support civic and social causes with great success.

John Wood, president, Amicon Construction

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